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From life in hiding to the world stage: Afghan women to make history at cycling championships

Two women are set to make history next week when they represent Afghanistan at the UCI Cycling World Championships in Glasgow.

Arefa, 24, and 22-year-old Mina have been training twice a week in their local park since February to prepare for the tournament.

“I want to represent my country, for every Afghan girl that doesn’t have that opportunity,” Arefa told Sky News.

“When the Taliban came to the country everything was banned for girls, every day, one more thing we couldn’t do.”


Women and girls in Afghanistan have been banned from playing and competing in sport since UK and international forces left the country two years ago and the Taliban took over.

The pair arrived in the UK in October 2022, having fled Afghanistan.

“It was difficult to leave our country, our families, our friends, our future,” Mina told Sky News

More on Afghanistan

“We made a plan, we made a life in Afghanistan.

“We had to leave to be safe and to try to be a professional cyclist and improve prospects for Afghan women.”

The pair want to improve prospects for Afghan women

‘Phenomenal story’

As refugees, they spent one year in hiding, fearing for their lives.

Once in the UK, both trained under the guidance of coach James Hey.

He provided them with bikes from his small cycling business when they arrived and soon saw their talent.

“Mina and Arefa had great potential,” he told Sky News.

“After much work, we have now been invited to participate in the UCI World Cycling Championships in Glasgow.

“Their initial response was one of disbelief.

“Going from their province where they used to dress up as men to now being on the world stage.

“It’s a phenomenal story.”

Read more:
Taliban ‘want to destroy’ rights of women and girls

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Cricketer’s dream ruined by Taliban

Olympics next?

The championships start on Thursday, and the Afghan team can expect to compete against cycling’s world best.

Sports psychologist Maria Jacob works with the women to help settle them in their new home.

“It’s more than just the mental training, and the practice,” she said.

“The fundamental work I am doing, is re-building. They are excited, they are already talking about the world championships, they are already talking about the Olympics.”


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